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Kings of England before 1066

Updated: Apr 6



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Anglo-Saxon England


Anglo-Saxon England was early medieval England, existing from the 5th to the 11th centuries from the end of Roman Britain until the Norman conquest in 1066. It consisted of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 927 when it was united as the Kingdom of England by King Æthelstan (r. 927–939). It became part of the short-lived North Sea Empire of Cnut the Great, a personal union between England, Denmark & Norway in the 11th century.


The Anglo-Saxons were the members of Germanic-speaking groups who migrated to the southern half of the island of Great Britain from nearby northwestern Europe. Anglo-Saxon history thus begins during the period of sub-Roman Britain following the end of Roman control, & traces the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th & 6th centuries, conventionally identified as seven main kingdoms (The Heptarchy);


  • Northumbria (Norþanhymbra rīċe)

  • Mercia (Miercna rīċe)

  • East Anglia (Ēastengla Rīċe)

  • Essex (Ēastseaxna rīce)

  • Kent (Cantwara rīce)

  • Sussex (Sūþseaxna rīċe)

  • Wessex (Westseaxna rīċe)


A map of Anglo-Saxon Britain
The Seven Kingdoms

Alongside the seven kingdoms, a number of other political divisions also existed, such as the kingdoms (or sub-kingdoms) of: Bernicia (old English: Bernice, Bryneich, Beornice) & Deira (Derenrice or Dere) within Northumbria; Lindsey in present-day Lincolnshire; the Hwicce in the southwest Midlands; the Magonsæte or Magonset, a sub-kingdom of Mercia in what is now Herefordshire; the Wihtwara, a Jutish kingdom on the Isle of Wight, originally as important as the Cantwara of Kent; the Middle Angles, a group of tribes based around modern Leicestershire (Lægrecastrescir), later conquered by the Mercians; the Hæstingas (around the town of Hastings in Sussex); & the Gewisse, a Saxon tribe in what is now southern Hampshire that later developed into the kingdom of Wessex.


The decline of the Heptarchy & the eventual emergence of the kingdom of England was a drawn-out process, taking place over the course of the 9th to 10th centuries. In the 9th century, the Danish enclave at York expanded into the Danelaw, with about half of England under Danish rule. English unification under Alfred the Great was a reaction to the threat from this common enemy. In 886, Alfred retook London, & the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that "all of the English people (all Angelcyn) not subject to the Danes submitted themselves to King Alfred."


The unification of the kingdom of England was complete only in the 10th century, following the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe as king of Northumbria. Æthelstan is credited as the first to be King of all England.


Anglo-Saxon identity survived beyond the Norman conquest, came to be known as Englishry under Norman rule, & through social & cultural integration with Celts, Danes & Normans became the modern English people.


 

Kings of England 871-1066. Alfred the Great

Our list of kings of the Kingdom of England begins with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which later made up modern England. Alfred styled himself King of the Anglo-Saxons from about 886, & while he was not the first king to claim to rule all of the English, his rule represents the start of the first unbroken line of kings to rule the whole of England, the House of Wessex.


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Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (Ælfred)



Reign: King of the West Saxons from 871 to c. 886.

King of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 to 899.


Born: c.849 at the royal estate of Wantage, in the district known as Berkshire.


Parents: Æthelwulf, king of Wessex, & his wife Osburh. Æthelwulf was King of Wessex from 839 to 858. He was the son of Ecgberht (770/775 – 839), King of Wessex.


Three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht & Æthelred, reigned in turn before him as kings of Wessex.


House of: Wessex.


Married: Alfred married Ealhswith (d.5 December 902) in 868, daughter of a Mercian nobleman, Æthelred Mucel, Ealdorman of the Gaini. The Gaini were probably one of the tribal groups of the Mercians. Ealhswith's mother, Eadburh, was a member of the Mercian royal family. His mother was Osburga, daughter of Oslac of the Isle of Wight, Chief Butler of England.


A posthumous image of Queen Ealhswith, 1220
A posthumous image of Queen Ealhswith, 1220

Children;


  • Æthelflæd (c.870 - d.12 June 918). She married c. 886, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians (d. 911).

  • Edward (c. 874 - 17 July 924) Married (1) Ecgwynn, (2) Ælfflæd, (3) 919 Eadgifu

  • Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury (fl*. 870s to 890s).

  • Æthelweard (d.16 October 922(?)

  • Ælfthryth (c. 877 – 7 June 929), she married Baldwin II, Margrave of Flanders (d. 918)


*Floruit (abbreviated fl. denotes a date or period during which a person was known to have been alive or active.

c. circa (Approximately, about, around (typically in relation to time).

b. born.

d. died.


After ascending the throne, Alfred spent several years fighting Viking invasions. He won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington in 878 & made an agreement with the Vikings, creating what was known as the Danelaw in the North of England. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of Viking leader Guthrum to Christianity. He defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, becoming the dominant ruler in England. Details of his life are described in a work by 9th-century Welsh scholar & bishop Asser.


Alfred had a reputation as a learned & merciful man of a gracious & level-headed nature who encouraged education, proposing that primary education be conducted in Old English rather than Latin & improving the legal system & military structure & his people's quality of life. He was given the epithet "the Great" in the 16th century. Alfred died on 26 October 899 at the age of 50 or 51. How he died is unknown, but he suffered throughout his life with a painful & unpleasant illness. His biographer Asser gave a detailed description of Alfred's symptoms, & this has allowed modern doctors to provide a possible diagnosis. It is thought that he had either Crohn's disease or haemorrhoids. His grandson King Eadred seems to have suffered from a similar illness.


Asser wrote of Alfred in his Life of King Alfred,


'Now, he was greatly loved, more than all his brothers, by his father & mother—indeed, by everybody—with a universal & profound love, & he was always brought up in the royal court & nowhere else...[He] was seen to be more comely in appearance than his other brothers, & more pleasing in manner, speech & behaviour...[and] in spite of all the demands of the present life, it has been the desire for wisdom, more than anything else, together with the nobility of his birth, which have characterized the nature of his noble mind.' — Keynes & Lapidge 1983, pp. 74–75


Alfred the Great died: 26 October 899 (aged 50 or 51).


Successor: Edward the Elder (son)



 

Edward the Elder, Anglo-Saxon king

Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons.



Reign: 26 October 899 – 17 July 924.

Born: c. 874

Parents: Alfred the Great & Ealhswith.

House of: Wessex.

Coronation: 8 June 900, Kingston upon Thames.


Married: (1.) Ecgwynn (Eċġwynn, fl. 890s) around 893. Their children were:


  • Æthelstan, King of England 924–939.

  • A daughter, perhaps called Edith, married Sihtric, Viking King of York in 926, who died in 927. Possibly Saint Edith of Polesworth.


(2.) In c. 900, Edward married Ælfflæd (c.899–c.919), daughter of Ealdorman Æthelhelm, probably of Wiltshire. Their children were:


  • Ælfweard, died August 924, a month after his father; possibly King of Wessex for that month.

  • Edwin, drowned at sea 933.

  • Æthelhild, lay sister at Wilton Abbey.

  • Eadgifu (died in or after 951), married Charles the Simple, King of the West Franks, c. 918.

  • Eadflæd, nun at Wilton Abbey.

  • Eadhild, married Hugh the Great, Duke of the Franks in 926.

  • Eadgyth (died 946), in 929/30 married Otto I, future King of the East Franks, & (after Eadgyth's death) Holy Roman Emperor.

  • Ælfgifu or Edgiva, married "a prince near the Alps", perhaps Louis, brother of King Rudolph II of Burgundy.


(3.) Edward married for a third time, about 919, Eadgifu (born. in or before 903 – died. in or after 966), the daughter of Sigehelm, Ealdorman of Kent. Their children were:


  • Edmund I, King of England 939–946

  • Eadred, King of England 946–955

  • Eadburh (died c. 952), Benedictine nun at Nunnaminster, Winchester, & saint

  • Eadgifu, existence uncertain, possibly the same person as Ælfgifu


Edward was the elder son of Alfred the Great & his wife Ealhswith. When Edward succeeded to the throne, he had to defeat a challenge from his cousin Æthelwold, who had a strong claim to the throne as the son of Alfred's elder brother and predecessor, Æthelred.


Alfred had succeeded Æthelred as king of Wessex in 871, & almost faced defeat against the Danish Vikings until his decisive victory at the Battle of Edington in 878. After the battle, the Vikings still ruled Northumbria, East Anglia & eastern Mercia, leaving only Wessex & western Mercia under Anglo-Saxon control. In the early 880s Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, the ruler of western Mercia, accepted Alfred's lordship & married his daughter Æthelflæd, & around 886 Alfred adopted the new title King of the Anglo-Saxons as the ruler of all Anglo-Saxons not subject to Danish rule.


In 910 a Mercian & West Saxon army inflicted a decisive defeat on an invading Northumbrian army, ending the threat from the northern Vikings. In the 910s, Edward conquered Viking-ruled southern England in partnership with his sister Æthelflæd, who had succeeded as Lady of the Mercians following the death of her husband in 911. Historians dispute how far Mercia was dominated by Wessex during this period, & after Æthelflæd's death in June 918, her daughter Ælfwynn briefly became second Lady of the Mercians, but in December Edward took her into Wessex & imposed direct rule on Mercia. By the end of the 910s he ruled Wessex, Mercia & East Anglia, & only Northumbria remained under Viking rule. In 924 he faced a Mercian & Welsh revolt at Chester, & after putting it down he died at Farndon in Cheshire on 17 July 924. He was succeeded by his eldest son Æthelstan.


Edward the Elder died: 17 July 924, Farndon, Cheshire, Mercia.


Burial: New Minster, Winchester, later translated to Hyde Abbey.


Successor: Æthelstan (son)


Edward the Elder: King of the Anglo-Saxons, Forgotten Son of Alfred Paperback

 


Æthelstan or Athelstan

Old English: Æðelstān; Old Norse: Aðalsteinn; lit. 'noble stone'



King of the Anglo-Saxons: 17 July/2 August 924 – 12 July 927.

King of the English: 12 July 927 – 27 October 939.


Coronation: 4 September 925, Kingston upon Thames.


Born: c. 894, Wessex.

Parents: Edward the Elder & Ecgwynn

House of: Wessex

Married: No, & no children.


Æthelstan was the son of King Edward the Elder & his first wife, Ecgwynn. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England & one of the "greatest Anglo-Saxon kings". He never married & had no children. He was succeeded by his half-brother, Edmund I.


When Edward died in July 924, Æthelstan was accepted by the Mercians as king. His half-brother Ælfweard may have been recognised as king in Wessex, but died within three weeks of their father's death. Æthelstan encountered resistance in Wessex for several months, & was not crowned until September 925. The coronation of Æthelstan took place on 4 September 925 at Kingston upon Thames, perhaps due to its symbolic location on the border between Wessex & Mercia. He was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Athelm, who probably designed or organised a new ordo (religious order of service) in which the king wore a crown for the first time instead of a helmet.


In 927 he conquered the last remaining Viking kingdom, York, making him the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of the whole of England. In 934 he invaded Scotland & forced Constantine II to submit to him. Æthelstan's rule was resented by the Scots & Vikings, & in 937 they invaded England. Æthelstan defeated them at the Battle of Brunanburh, a victory that gave him great prestige both in the British Isles & on the Continent.


The battle was reported in the Annals of Ulster: 'A great, lamentable & horrible battle was cruelly fought between the Saxons & the Northmen, in which several thousands of Northmen, who are uncounted, fell, but their king Amlaib [Olaf], escaped with a few followers. A large number of Saxons fell on the other side, but Æthelstan, king of the Saxons, enjoyed a great victory.'


After his death in 939 the Vikings seized back control of York, & it was not finally reconquered until 954.


Æthelstan centralised government; he increased control over the production of charters & summoned leading figures from distant areas to his councils. These meetings were also attended by rulers from outside his territory, especially Welsh kings, who thus acknowledged his overlordship. More legal texts survive from his reign than from any other 10th-century English king. They show his concern about widespread robberies, & the threat they posed to social order. His legal reforms built on those of his grandfather, Alfred the Great. Æthelstan was one of the most pious West Saxon kings, & was known for collecting relics & founding churches. His household was the centre of English learning during his reign, & it laid the foundation for the Benedictine monastic reform later in the century.


No other West Saxon king played as important a role in European politics as Æthelstan, & he arranged the marriages of several of his sisters to continental rulers.


Died: 27 October 939 (aged about 45), Gloucester, England.

Burial: Malmesbury Abbey.


Successor: Edmund I (half-brother).



 


The Coronation Stone is an ancient sarsen stone block which is believed to have been the site of the coronation of seven Anglo-Saxon kings. It is presently located next to the Guildhall in Kingston upon Thames, England. Kingston is now a town in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames in Greater London. Æthelstan was consecrated king at Kingston in 925, Eadred in 946 & Æthelred the Unready in 979. There is also some evidence that Edward the Elder, Edmund I, Eadwig & Edward the Martyr were consecrated in the town.


 

Edmund I, king of the English (Old English: Ēadmund)

Edmund I (Old English: Ēadmund), King of the English.



Reign: 27 October 939 – 26 May 946.


Coronation: c. 29 November 939, probably at Kingston upon Thames.


Born: 921, Wessex


Parents: Edward the Elder & Eadgifu of Kent


House of: Wessex


Married: (1.) Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury (d.944) about 939. Daughter of Wynflaed (died c. 950 or 960) was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, a major landowner in the areas of Hampshire, Somerset, Dorset & Wiltshire.


Children: Eadwig (c. 940–959), and Edgar (c. 943–975), both kings of England.


(2.) Æthelflæd of Damerham, no known children. Æthelflæd was a daughter of ealdorman Ælfgar, probably the ealdorman of Essex.


Died: 26 May 946 (aged 24–25), Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire, England.


Burial: Glastonbury Abbey.


Successor: Eadred (brother).


Æthelstan had succeeded as the king of England south of the Humber & he became the first king of all England when he conquered Viking-ruled York in 927, but after his death Anlaf Guthfrithson was accepted as king of York & extended Viking rule to the Five Boroughs** of north-east Mercia. Edmund was initially forced to accept the reverse, but he was able to recover his position following Anlaf's death in 941. In 942 Edmund took back control of the Five Boroughs & in 944 he regained control over the whole of England when he expelled the Viking kings of York. His victory was considered so significant that it was commemorated by a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:


'Here King Edmund, lord of the English

guardian of kinsmen, beloved instigator of deeds,

conquered Mercia, bounded by The Dore

Whitwell Gap & Humber river

broad ocean-stream; five boroughs:

Leicester & Lincoln,

& Nottingham likewise Stamford also

& Derby. Earlier the Danes were

under Northmen, subjected by force

in heathens' captive fetters,

for a long time until they were ransomed again,

to the honour of Edward's son,

protector of warriors, King Edmund.'


Edmund inherited his brother's interests & leading advisers, such as Oda, whom he appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 941, Æthelstan Half-King, ealdorman of East Anglia, & Ælfheah the Bald, Bishop of Winchester. Government at the local level was mainly carried on by ealdormen, & Edmund made substantial changes in personnel during his reign, with a move from Æthelstan's main reliance on West Saxons to a greater prominence of men with Mercian connections. Unlike the close relatives of previous kings, his mother & brother attested many of Edmund's charters, suggesting a high degree of family cooperation. Edmund was also an active legislator, & three of his codes survive.


On 26 May 946 Edmund was killed in a brawl at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire. According to the post-Conquest chronicler, John of Worcester:


While the glorious Edmund, king of the English, was at the royal township called Pucklechurch in English, in seeking to rescue his steward from Leofa, a most wicked thief, lest he be killed, was himself killed by the same man on the feast of St Augustine, teacher of the English, on Tuesday, 26 May, in the fourth indiction, having completed five years & seven months of his reign. He was borne to Glastonbury, & buried by the abbot, St Dunstan.


** The Five Boroughs or The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw were the five main towns of Danish Mercia (what is now the East Midlands). These were Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham & Stamford. The first four later became county towns.


 

Eadred (also Edred, 'the Weak-in-the-Feet'), king of the English

Eadred (also Edred, 'the Weak-in-the-Feet'), King of the English



Reign: 26 May 946 – 23 November 955.


Coronation: 16 August 946, Kingston upon Thames.


Born: 923, Wessex, England


Parents: Edward the Elder & Eadgifu of Kent


House of: Wessex


Married: No.


Died: 23 November 955 (aged 31–32), Frome, Somerset, England.


Burial: Old Minster, Winchester. Bones now in Winchester Cathedral.


Successor: Eadwig (nephew).


In 946 King Edmund I, was killed trying to protect his seneschal from an attack by a violent thief. Edmund's two sons, Eadwig & Edgar, were then young children, so Eadred became king.


In 954 the York magnates expelled their last king, Erik Bloodaxe, & Eadred appointed Osullf, the Anglo-Saxon ruler of the north Northumbrian territory of Bamburgh, as the first ealdorman of the whole of Northumbria.


Eadred had been very close to Edmund & inherited many of his leading advisers, such as his mother Eadgifu, Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury, & Æthelstan, ealdorman of East Anglia, who was so powerful that he was known as the 'Half-King'. Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury & future Archbishop of Canterbury, was a close friend & adviser, & Eadred appears to have authorised Dunstan to draft charters when he became too ill to attend meetings of the witan (King's Council) in his last years.


The English Benedictine Reform did not reach fruition until the reign of Edgar, but Eadred was a strong supporter in its early stages. He was close to two of its leaders, Æthelwold, whom he appointed Abbot of Abingdon, & Dunstan. However, like earlier kings he did not share the view of the circle around Æthelwold that Benedictine monasticism was the only worthwhile religious life & he appointed Ælfsige, a married man with a son, as Bishop of Winchester.


Charter S 535 dated 948 written by the scribe known as Edmund C. It is a grant by Eadred to a religious woman called Ælfwynn at the request of Eadgifu, who is the second attestor. Archbishop Oda is the third one

Charter S 535 dated 948 written by the scribe known as Edmund C. It is a grant by Eadred to a religious woman called Ælfwynn at the request of Eadgifu, who is the second attestor. Archbishop Oda is the third one.


Eadred suffered from ill health in the last years of his life & he died at the age of a little over thirty, having never married. He was succeeded successively by his nephews, Eadwig & Edgar.


Mortuary chest from Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, England. This is one of six mortuary chests near the altar in the Cathedral, this one purports to contain the bones of King Edred d. 955, along with others.

Mortuary chest from Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, England. This is one of six mortuary chests near the altar in the Cathedral, this one purports to contain the bones of King Edred d. 955, along with others.


The Anglo-Saxon World Paperback – Illustrated

 

Eadwig (also spelled Edwy or Eadwige, & sometimes called the All-Fair. King of the English.

Eadwig (also spelled Edwy or Eadwige), King of the English



Reign: 23 November 955 – 1 October 959


Born: c. 940, Wessex, England.


Parents: Edmund I & Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury


House of: Wessex


Married: Ælfgifu (annulled)


Children: none


Died: 1 October 959 (aged around 19), Gloucester, England.


Burial: Winchester Cathedral.


Successor: Edgar the Peaceful (brother)


Eadwig became king in 955 aged about fifteen & was no more than twenty when he died in 959. Legend has it that his coronation had to be delayed while Dunstan dislodged him from a bed where he was lying between his sweetheart & her Mother. Dunstan was, after that incident, never exactly a favourite of Eadwig's. The powerful Abbot of Glastonbury & future Archbishop of Canterbury, was exiled to Flanders. Eadwig went on to marry Ælgifu, the girl with whom he was keeping company at the time of Dunstan's intrusion.


In 956 he issued more than sixty charters transferring land, a yearly total unmatched by any other European king before the twelfth century, & this is seen by some historians as either an attempt to buy support or rewarding his favourites at the expense of the powerful old guard of the previous reign.


In 957, the kingdom was divided between Eadwig, who kept the territory south of the Thames, & his brother Edgar, who became king of the land north of it. Historians disagree whether this had been planned since the beginning of his reign or was the result of a successful revolt brought about by Eadwig's enemies. The following year, Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury, separated Eadwig from his wife Ælfgifu on the ground that they were too closely related. Edgar succeeded to the whole kingdom when Eadwig died in 959.


The Benedictine reform movement became dominant in Edgar's reign with his strong support, & monastic writers praised him & condemned Eadwig as irresponsible & incompetent. Their view was generally accepted by historians until the late twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century some historians have defended Eadwig, while others see his character & the events of his reign as unclear due to uncertain & conflicting evidence.



 

Edgar the Peaceful (Ēadgār). King of the English

Edgar the Peaceful (Ēadgār), King of the English



Reign: 1 October 959 – 8 July 975.


Born: 943 or 944, England


Parents: Edmund I & Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury.


House of: Wessex.


Marriages & children;


(1.) Æthelflæd Eneda (the 'white duck')


Children:


  • Edward the Martyr (born c. 962 - died 978)


(2.) Wulfthryth of Wilton. (d. c.1000)


Children:


  • Edith of Wilton also known as Saint Edith (c. 961 – 16 September 984)


(3.) Ælfthryth (c. 945 – 1000 or 1001). She was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar. Her mother was a member of the royal family of Wessex. The family's power lay in the west of Wessex.


Children:


  • Edmund Atheling (born c. 966 - died c.970)

  • Æthelred the Unready (born c. 968 - d. 23 April 1016)


Edgar the Peaceful died: 8 July 975 (aged 30-32), Winchester, Hampshire, England.


Burial: Glastonbury Abbey.


Successor: Edward the Martyr (son).


Charter of King Edgar for Abingdon Abbey in 961, written by the scribe known as Edgar A, London, British Library, Cotton Augustus ii. 39

Charter of King Edgar for Abingdon Abbey in 961, written by the scribe known as Edgar A, London, British Library, Cotton Augustus ii. 39


Edgar became king of all England on his brother's death in 959. A chronological account of Edgar's reign is not possible, because only a few events were recorded by chroniclers & monastic writers were more interested in recording the activities of the leaders of the church.


Edgar mainly followed the political policies of his predecessors, whereas there were major changes in the religious sphere & the English Benedictine Reform, which he strongly supported, became a dominant religious & social force. It is seen by historians as a major achievement, & it was accompanied by a literary & artistic flowering, mainly associated with Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester.


England had suffered from Viking invasions for over a century when he came to power, but there were none during his reign, which fell in a lull in attacks between the mid-950s & the early 980s. After his death the throne was disputed between the supporters of his two surviving sons, & the elder one, Edward the Martyr, was chosen with the support of Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Three years later Edward was murdered & succeeded by his younger half-brother, Æthelred the Unready. Later chroniclers presented Edgar's reign as a golden age when England was free from external attacks & internal disorder, especially compared with Æthelred's disastrous rule.


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Edward the Martyr (Eadweard), king of the English

Edward the Martyr (Eadweard), King of the English



Reign: 8 July 975 – 18 March 978


Born: c. 962


Parents: Edgar the Peaceful & Æthelflæd or Wulfthryth.


House of: Wessex


Died: 18 March 978 (aged 15–16), Corfe Castle, Dorset, England. Murdered.


Burial: Wareham, Dorset; later Shaftesbury; later Woking.


Successor: Æthelred the Unready (half Brother).


Edward, often called the Martyr, was King of the English from 975 until he was murdered in 978. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar, but was not his father's acknowledged heir. On Edgar's death, the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward's claim to be king & others supporting his younger half-brother Æthelred the Unready, recognised as a legitimate son of Edgar. Edward was chosen as king & was crowned by his main clerical supporters, the archbishops Dunstan of Canterbury & Oswald of York. The great nobles of the kingdom, ealdormen Ælfhere & Æthelwine, quarrelled, & civil war almost broke out. In the so-called anti-monastic reaction, the nobles took advantage of Edward's weakness to dispossess the Benedictine reformed monasteries of lands & other properties that King Edgar had granted to them.


Edward's short reign was brought to an end by his murder at Corfe in 978 in circumstances that are not altogether clear. He was hurriedly buried at Wareham, but was reburied with great ceremony at Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset early in 979. In 1001 Edward's remains were moved to a more prominent place in the abbey, probably with the blessing of his half-brother King Æthelred. Edward was already reckoned a saint by this time.


A number of lives of Edward were written in the centuries following his death in which he was portrayed as a martyr, generally seen as a victim of the Queen Dowager Ælfthryth, mother of Æthelred. He is today recognised as a saint in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, & the Anglican Communion.


In the 19th-century depiction by James William Edmund Doyle, Edward the Martyr is offered a cup of mead by Ælfthryth, widow of the late Edgar, unaware that her attendant is about to murder him.

In the 19th-century depiction by James William Edmund Doyle, Edward the Martyr is offered a cup of mead by Ælfthryth, widow of the late Edgar, unaware that her attendant is about to murder him.


 

An example of an early medieval Christian cross
A Medieval Cross

This text of the Lord's Prayer is presented in the standardised Early West Saxon dialect & Word-for-word translation into Modern English


Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum, - Father Ours, thou which art in heavens,

Sīe þīn nama ġehālgod. - Be Thine name hallowed.

Tōbecume þīn rīċe, - To be come, Thine kingdom.

Ġeweorðe þīn willa, on eorðan swā swā on heofonum. - Let there be Thine will, on earth as in heavens.

Ūrne dæġhwamlīcan hlāf sele ūs tōdæġ, - Our daily loaf sell us today,

And forġief ūs ūre gyltas, swā swā wē forġiefaþ ūrum gyltendum. - And forgive us our guilts, as we forgiveth our guilters.

And ne ġelǣd þū ūs on costnunge, ac ālīes ūs of yfele. - And not lead, Thou, us in temptations, but allay us of evil.

Sōðlīċe. - Amen


 

Æthelred the Unready, (Æþelræd), King of the English

Æthelred the Unready, (Æþelræd), King of the English


His epithet does not derive from the modern word "unready", but rather from the Old English unræd meaning "poorly advised"; it is a pun on his name, which means "well advised".



Reign: 18 March 978 – 1013 & 1014 – 23 April 1016.


Born: c. 966, England


Parents: Edgar the Peaceful & Ælfthryth.


House of: Wessex


Married: (1.) Ælfgifu of York (fl. c. 970 – 1002) in the 980s.


Their known children are:


  • Æthelstan Ætheling, (Æþelstan Æþeling died 1014)

  • Ecgberht Ætheling (died c. 1005)

  • Edmund Ironside (Ēadmund, King of the English, died 1016)

  • Eadred Ætheling (died before 1013)

  • Eadwig Ætheling (executed by Cnut 1017)

  • Edgar Ætheling (died c. 1008)

  • Eadgyth or Edith (married Eadric Streona)

  • Ælfgifu (married Uchtred the Bold, ealdorman of Northumbria)

  • Wulfhild? (married Ulfcytel Snillingr)

  • Abbess of Wherwell Abbey?


(2.) Emma of Normandy (c. 984 – 6 March 1052), in 1002, Emma is referred to as Ælfgifu in royal documents. Emma was was a Norman-born noblewoman who became the English, Danish, & Norwegian queen through her marriages to the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred the Unready & the Danish king Cnut the Great. She was the daughter of Richard I of Normandy (the Fearless) & Gunnor. Richard I was a grandson of the famed Viking warrior Rollo.


Their children were:


  • Edward the Confessor (King of England, died 1066)

  • Ælfred Ætheling (died 1036–37). His name translates to Alfred the Noble.

  • Godgifu or Goda of England (married 1. Dreux de Vexin, Count of Mantes, Valois and the Vexin also known as: Drogo of Mantes & 2. Eustace II, Count of Boulogne) Gidifu means "gift of God"


Died: 23 April 1016 (aged about 49), London, England.


Burial: Old St Paul's Cathedral.


First reign successor: Sweyn Forkbeard.


Second reign successor: Edmund Ironside (son).


Æthelred II, known as Æthelred the Unready, was King of the English from 978 to 1013 & again from 1014 until his death in 1016.


He was the son of King Edgar the Peaceful & Queen Ælfthryth. He came to the throne at about the age of 12, following the assassination of his older half-brother, King Edward the Martyr. The main problem of Æthelred's reign was conflict with the Danes. After several decades of relative peace, Danish raids on English territory began again in the 980s, becoming markedly more serious in the early 990s. Following the Battle of Maldon in 991, Æthelred paid tribute, or Danegeld, to the Danish king.


In 1002, Æthelred ordered what became known as the St. Brice's Day massacre of Danish settlers. Gunhilde, sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, was said to have been among the victims. In 1013, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England, as a result of which Æthelred fled to Normandy in 1013 & was replaced by Sweyn.


After Sweyn died in 1014, Æthelred returned to the throne, but he died just two years later. Æthelred's 37-year combined reign was the longest of any Anglo-Saxon English king, & was only surpassed in the 13th century, by Henry III. Æthelred was buried in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London. The tomb & his monument in the quire at Old St Paul's Cathedral were destroyed along with the cathedral in the Great Fire of London in 1666.


A charter of Æthelred's in 1003 to his follower, Æthelred. British Library, London

A charter of Æthelred's in 1003 to his follower, Æthelred. British Library, London


 

Old English: Ūs is lēofre þæt wē hæbben healtne cyning þonne healt rīċe

= We'd rather have a crippled king than a crippled kingdom.


 

Sweyn Forkbeard

Sweyn Forkbeard

Old Norse: Sveinn Haraldsson tjúguskegg; Danish: Svend Tveskæg



King of Denmark: from 986 to 1014.

King of Norway: 986–995 & 1000–1014.

King of the English: 1013–1014


Born: c. 960, Denmark


Parents: Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson (Old Norse: Haraldr Gormsson; Danish: Harald Blåtand Gormsen, died c. 985/86), king of Denmark & Norway, by either Gunhild or Tove.


House of: Denmark


Marriages & children;


The sources about the wife or wives of Sweyn are contradictory, but the three names we have are;


  • 1. Świętosława

  • 2. Sigrid the Haughty

  • 3. Gunhild of Wenden


Children;


  • Harald II (c. 996–998 − c. 1018), king of Denmark.

  • Cnut the Great (Cnut cyning, d. 12 November 1035), king of England.

  • Estrid Svendsdatter (990/997 – 1057/1073)

  • Gytha

  • Gunnhild

  • Santslaue

  • Thyra


Died: 3 February 1014 (aged 53-54), Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England.


Burial: Roskilde Cathedral or St. Trinity in Lund.


Successor:


As king of Denmark: Harald II of Denmark (eldest son)

King of Norway: Olaf II of Norway

King of England: Æthelred the Unready.


 

Sweyn Forkbeard was King of Denmark from 986 until his death, King of England for five weeks from December 1013 until his death, & King of Norway from 999/1000 until 1013/14. He was the father of King Harald II of Denmark, King Cnut the Great, & Queen Estrid Svendsdatter.


In the mid-980s, Sweyn revolted against his father, Harald Bluetooth***, & seized the throne. Harald was driven into exile & died shortly afterwards in November 986 or 987. In 1000, with the allegiance of Eric, Earl of Lade, Sweyn ruled most of Norway. In 1013, shortly before his death, he became the first Danish king of the English after a long effort.


The "Chronicle of John of Wallingford" (c. 1225–1250) records Sweyn's involvement in raids against England during 1002–1005, 1006–1007 & 1009–1012 to avenge the St. Brice's Day massacre of England's Danish inhabitants in November 1002.


In 1013, he is reported to have personally led his forces in a full-scale invasion of England. The medieval Peterborough Chronicle (part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) states:


'before the month of August came king Sweyn with his fleet to Sandwich. He went very quickly about East Anglia into the Humber's mouth, & so upward along the Trent till he came to Gainsborough. Earl Uchtred & all Northumbria quickly bowed to him, as did all the people of the Kingdom of Lindsey, then the people of the Five Boroughs. He was given hostages from each shire. When he understood that all the people had submitted to him, he bade that his force should be provisioned & horsed; he went south with the main part of the invasion force, while some of the invasion force, as well as the hostages, were with his son Cnut. After he came over Watling Street, they went to Oxford, & the town-dwellers soon bowed to him, & gave hostages. From there they went to Winchester, & the people did the same, then eastward to London.'


But the Londoners put up a strong resistance, because King Æthelred & Thorkell the Tall, a Viking leader who had defected to Æthelred, personally held their ground against him in London itself. Sweyn then went west to Bath, where the western thanes submitted to him & gave hostages. The Londoners then followed suit, fearing Sweyn's revenge if they resisted any longer. King Æthelred sent his sons Edward & Alfred to Normandy, & himself spent Christmas on the Isle of Wight, & then followed them into exile.


Based in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Sweyn began to organise his vast new kingdom, but he died there on 3 February 1014, having ruled England for only five weeks. Sweyn's cause of death is unknown.


Did you know? Sweyn's daughter, Estrid Svendsdatter, was the mother of King Sweyn II of Denmark. Her descendants continue to reign in Denmark to this day. One of them, Margaret of Denmark, married James III of Scotland in 1469, introducing Sweyn's bloodline into the Scottish royal house. After James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne in 1603, Sweyn's descendants became monarchs of England again.


*** The Bluetooth wireless specification design was named after the Harald Bluetooth in 1997, based on an analogy that the technology would unite devices the way Harald Bluetooth united the tribes of Denmark into a single kingdom. The Bluetooth logo consists of a Younger Futhark bind rune for his initials, H (ᚼ) & B (ᛒ).


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Edmund Ironside, King of the English

Edmund Ironside, King of the English


(Ēadmund, sometimes also known as Edmund II). His cognomen "Ironside" was given to him "because of his valour" in resisting the Danish invasion led by Cnut the Great



Reign: 23 April – 30 November 1016


Born: c. 990, England


Parents: Æthelred the Unready & Ælfgifu of York (fl. c. 970 – 1002)


House of: Wessex


Married: Ealdgyth (circa 992 – after 1016)


Children:


  • Edward the Exile (1016 – 19 April 1057), also called Edward Ætheling. He spent most of his life in exile in the Kingdom of Hungary following the defeat of his father by Cnut the Great.

  • Edmund Ætheling (c. 1015 – possibly 1046, certainly by 1054).


Died: 30 November 1016 (aged 25–26), Oxford or London, England.


Burial: Glastonbury Abbey


Successor: Cnut the Great


Edmund Ironside, sometimes also known as Edmund II was King of the English from 23 April to 30 November 1016. He was the son of King Æthelred the Unready & his first wife, Ælfgifu of York. Edmund's reign was marred by a war he had inherited from his father; his cognomen "Ironside" was given to him "because of his valour" in resisting the Danish invasion led by Cnut the Great.


Edmund was not expected to be King of England; however, by June 1014 two elder brothers Æthelstan Ætheling & Ecgberht Ætheling had died, making him heir apparent. At the end of the same year, England was conquered by Sweyn Forkbeard, who died just five weeks later. Æthelred was able to reclaim the throne. Sweyn's son, Cnut, was defeated & returned to his native Denmark, where he assembled an invasion force to reconquer England.


After regaining the throne, the royal family set about strengthening its hold on the country. People who had sided with the Danes in 1014 were punished, & some were killed. In one case, two brothers, Morcar & Sigeferth, were killed and their possessions were taken by Æthelred. Sigeferth's widow Ealdgyth was imprisoned within a monastery. Cnut returned to England in August 1015. Over the next few months, Cnut pillaged most of England. Edmund joined Æthelred to defend London, but in 1016 Edmund unofficially named himself the Earl of the East Midlands & raised a revolt against his father. Without the king's permission he took Ealdgyth from the monastery, & married her; it would have been a politically advantageous marriage, since she was a member of one of the strongest families in the Midlands.


Æthelred died on 23 April 1016, making Edmund king. It was not until the summer of 1016 that any serious fighting was done: Edmund fought five battles against the Danes, ending in his defeat on 18 October at the Battle of Assandun, after which they agreed to divide the kingdom, Edmund taking Wessex & Cnut the rest of the country. Edmund died shortly afterwards on 30 November, leaving two sons, Edward (the Exile) & Edmund; however, Cnut became king of all England, & exiled the remaining members of Edmund's family.


According to John of Worcester, Cnut sent them to Sweden, but King Olof of Sweden sent them on to Kiev, where his daughter Ingegerd was the grand princess. The boys eventually ended up in Hungary where Edmund died. Edward returned from exile to England in 1057 only to die within a few days of his arrival. His son Edgar Ætheling was briefly proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but later submitted to William the Conqueror. Edgar lived a long & eventful life: fighting in rebellion against William the Conqueror from 1067 to 1075; fighting alongside the Conqueror's son Robert Curthose in campaigns in Sicily (1085–1087); & accompanying Robert on the First Crusade (1099–1103). He was still alive in 1125.


In 1070 Edward the Exile's daughter, Margaret, became queen of Scotland. Through her & her descendants, Edmund is the ancestor of subsequent British monarchs


 

Cnut the Great, king of England

Cnut the Great

(Old English: Cnut cyning; Old Norse: Knútr inn ríki; also known as Canute).



King of Denmark: 1018–1035.

King of the English: 1016–1035.

King of Norway: 1028–1035.


English Coronation: 1017 in London.


Born: c. 990.


Parents: Sweyn Forkbeard & ?


House of: Knýtlinga


Married:


1) – Ælfgifu of Northampton. Ælfgifu (c. 990 – after 1036) was a daughter of Ælfhelm, ealdorman of southern Northumbria, & his wife Wulfrun.


Children;


  • Sweyn Knutsson (c. 1016–1035), king of Norway.

  • Harold Harefoot, (died 17 March 1040), king of England.


2) – Emma of Normandy (c. 984 – 6 March 1052), in 1017, she was the widow of Æthelred the Unready.


Children;


  • Harthacnut, (c. 1018 – 8 June 1042), King of Denmark and England

  • Gunhilda of Denmark, (c. 1020 – 18 July 1038). She wed Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor.


Died: 12 November 1035 (aged around 45), Shaftesbury, Dorset, England.


Burial: Old Minster, Winchester, England. Bones now in Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, England.


Successor: Harold Harefoot (son).


Cnut was King of England from 1016, King of Denmark from 1018, & King of Norway from 1028 until his death in 1035. The three kingdoms united under Cnut's rule are referred to together as the North Sea Empire.


As a Danish prince, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016. His later accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England & Denmark together. Cnut sought to keep this power-base by uniting Danes & English under cultural bonds of wealth & custom. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in 1028.


After his 1026 victory against Norway & Sweden, & on his way back from Rome where he attended the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Cnut deemed himself "King of all England & Denmark & the Norwegians & of some of the Swedes" in a letter written for the benefit of his subjects. The Anglo-Saxon kings used the title "king of the English". Cnut was ealles Engla landes cyning—"king of all England". Medieval historian Norman Cantor called him "the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history"


 

"Cnut cyning gret his arcebiscopas and his leod-biscopas and Þurcyl eorl and ealle his eorlas and ealne his þeodscype, tƿelfhynde and tƿyhynde, gehadode and læƿede, on Englalande freondlice."

Translated: Cnut, king, greets his archbishops & his lede' (people's)'-bishops and Thorkell, earl, & all his earls & all his peopleship, greater (having a 1200 shilling weregild) & lesser (200 shilling weregild), hooded (ordained to priesthood) & lewd (lay), in England friendly. - Original Old English (written in 1020):


 

Harold I, also known as Harold Harefoot, king of England

Harold I, also known as Harold Harefoot, king of England


Harold's nickname "Harefoot" is first recorded as "Harefoh" or "Harefah" in the twelfth century in the history of Ely Abbey, & according to some late medieval chroniclers it meant that he was "fleet of foot"



Reign: 12 November 1035 – 17 March 1040


Born: ?


Parents: Cnut the Great & Ælfgifu of Northampton.


House of: Knýtlinga


Married: Possibly Ælfgifu?


Children:


Ælfwine Haroldsson or Ælfwine (most probably an illegitimate son of King Harold Harefoot)


Died: 17 March 1040, Oxford, England


Burial: St. Clement Danes, Westminster, England.


Successor: Harthacnut (half brother).


Upon the death of Cnut on 12 November 1035, Harold's younger half-brother Harthacnut, the son of Cnut & his queen Emma of Normandy, was the legitimate heir to the thrones of both the Danes & the English.


Harold was elected regent of England, he initially ruled England in place of his brother Harthacnut, who was stuck in Denmark due to a rebellion in Norway which had ousted their brother Svein. Although Harold had wished to be crowned king since 1035, Æthelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to do so. It was not until 1037 that Harold, supported by earl Leofric & many others, was officially proclaimed king.


The same year, Harold's two step-brothers Edward (the Confessor) & Alfred returned to England with a considerable military force. Alfred was captured by Earl Godwin, who had him seized & delivered to an escort of men loyal to Harefoot. While en route to Ely, he was blinded & soon after died of his wounds. Harold died in 1040, having ruled just five years; his half-brother Harthacnut soon returned & took hold of the kingdom peacefully.


Harthacnut had been horrified by Harold's murder of Alfred, & his mother demanded vengeance. With the approval of Harold's former councillors, his body was disinterred from its place of honour at Westminster & publicly beheaded. It was disposed of in a sewer, but then retrieved & thrown in the Thames, from which London shipmen rescued it & had it buried in a churchyard.


 

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Harthacnut, king of England

Harthacnut, king of England


(Danish: Hardeknud; "Tough-knot", traditionally Hardicanute, sometimes referred to as Canute III.



Reign: 1035 – 8 June 1042.


Born: c. 1018, England


Parents: Cnut the Great & Emma of Normandy


House of: Knýtlinga


Died: 8 June 1042 (aged 23–24), Lambeth, England. On 8 June 1042, Harthacnut attended a wedding in Lambeth. The groom was Tovi the Proud, former standard-bearer to Cnut, & the bride was Gytha, daughter of the courtier Osgod Clapa. Harthacnut presumably consumed large quantities of alcohol. As he was drinking to the health of the bride, he "died as he stood at his drink, & he suddenly fell to the earth with an awful convulsion; & those who were close by took hold of him, & he spoke no word afterwards..." The likely cause of death was a stroke, "brought about by an excessive intake of alcohol".


Successor: Edward the Confessor half brother).


Harthacnut was the eldest son of King Canute II & Emma of Normandy & was therefore the heir to the English crown. He had been proclaimed king of Denmark in 1028 but when Canute died in 1035 Harthacnut was defending his land in Denmark. In his absence his illegitimate half-brother, Harold Harefoot was crowned King Harold I of England in 1037. As Harthacnut was planning his invasion of England Harold died. Harthacnut landed at Sandwich on 17 June 1040, "seven days before Midsummer", it was a peaceful arrival, though he was taking no chances & came as a conqueror with an invasion force of 62 warships.


Harthacnut was generous to the church. Very few contemporary documents survive, but a royal charter of his transferred land to Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester, & he made several grants to Ramsey Abbey. The 12th-century Ramsey Chronicle speaks well of his generosity & of his character.


Harthacnut had suffered from bouts of illness even before he became King of England. He may have suffered from tuberculosis, & he probably knew that he hadn't got long to live. In 1041 he invited his half-brother Edward the Confessor (his mother Emma's son by Æthelred the Unready) back from exile in Normandy & most likely made him his heir. He may well have been influenced by Emma, who hoped to keep her power by ensuring that one of her sons was succeeded by another. Dying just over two years in to his reign, Harthacnut was the last Dane to rule England.


 

Edward the Confessor, king of England

Edward the Confessor, king of England

(Ēadweard Andettere)



Reign: 8 June 1042 – 5 January 1066


Coronation: 3 April 1043, Winchester Cathedral.


Born: c. 1003–1005, Islip, Oxfordshire, England.


Parents: Æthelred the Unready & Emma of Normandy.


House of: Wessex


Married: Edith of Wessex in 1045. Edith of Wessex (c. 1025 – 18 December 1075) was the daughter of Godwin, the most powerful earl in England. Her mother Gytha was sister of Ulf, a Danish earl who was Cnut the Great's brother-in-law.


Children: none


Died: 5 January 1066 (aged 60–63), London, England

Burial: Westminster Abbey, London.


Successor: Harold Godwinson (brother-in-law).


Edward the Confessor, enthroned, opening scene of the Bayeux Tapestry
Edward the Confessor, enthroned, opening scene of the Bayeux Tapestry

Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 5 January 1066), usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, was the son of Æthelred the Unready & Emma of Normandy. He succeeded Cnut the Great's son – & his own half-brother – Harthacnut. He restored the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule since Cnut conquered England in 1016. When Edward died in 1066, he was succeeded by his wife's brother Harold Godwinson, who was defeated & killed in the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Edward's young great-nephew Edgar the Ætheling of the House of Wessex was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 but was never crowned & was peacefully deposed after about eight weeks.


During his reign power was held by Earl Godwin of Wessex & his son Harold, while the king devoted himself to religion, including the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey (consecrated in 1065), where he is buried.


His nickname reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly & pious. Confessor reflects his reputation as a saint who did not suffer martyrdom as opposed to his uncle, King Edward the Martyr. Biographers Frank Barlow & Peter Rex, portray Edward as a successful king, one who was energetic, resourceful & sometimes ruthless; they argue that the Norman conquest shortly after his death tarnished his image.


About a century later, in 1161, Pope Alexander III canonised the king. Edward was one of England's national saints until King Edward III adopted Saint George (George of Lydda) as the national patron saint in about 1350. Saint Edward's feast day is 13 October, celebrated by both the Church of England & the Catholic Church.


Edward's seal: SIGILLVM EADWARDI ANGLORVM BASILEI (Seal of Edward crowned/King of the English).
Edward's seal: SIGILLVM EADWARDI ANGLORVM BASILEI (Seal of Edward crowned/King of the English).

Edward's funeral in Westminster Abbey (left), where he is buried, as depicted in scene 26 of the Bayeux Tapestry
Edward's funeral in Westminster Abbey (left), where he is buried, as depicted in scene 26 of the Bayeux Tapestry


 

Harold Godwinson, also called Harold II, king of England

Harold Godwinson, also called Harold II, king of England



Reign: 5 January – 14 October 1066.


Coronation: 6 January 1066.


Born: c. 1022, Wessex, England.


Parents: Godwin of Wessex (Old English: Godwine; died 15 April 1053) & Gytha Thorkelsdóttir (Old English: Gȳða Þorkelsdōttir, c. 997 – c. 1069), also called Githa.


House of: Godwin


Married:


(1.) Edith the Fair (Old English: Ealdgȳð Swann hnesce, "Edyth the Gentle Swan"; c. 1025 – c. 1066), also known as Edith Swanneck.


Children


  • Godwin (fl. 1066 – 1069)

  • Edmund (fl. 1068 – 1069)

  • Magnus (fl. 1068)

  • Gunhild (ft 1066-1093)

  • Gytha of Wessex (born c. 1053/1061 - died 1098 or 1107)

  • Harold (fl. 1067 – 1098)

  • Ulf (fl. 1067 – 1087)


(2.) About January 1066, Harold married Edith (or Ealdgyth), daughter of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia,& Ælfgifu. Edith was a widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.


Children: Unknown.


Died: 14 October 1066 (aged about 44), near Senlac Hill, Sussex, England. Killed during the Battle of hastings. His death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule over England.


Burial: Waltham Abbey, Essex, or Bosham, Sussex (disputed).


Successor: William the Conqueror.


Harold succeeded his father Earl Godwine in 1053 as Earl of Wessex.. He had no bloodline to the throne but his sister Edith was married to King Edward the Confessor. In January 1066 when Edward died childless, the Witan elected Harold to succeed him & one day later he was crowned King Harold II, he was probably the first English monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. William of Normandy claimed that he'd been promised the throne by his relative Edward & that in 1063 Harold had sworn allegiance to support his claim. On hearing of Harold's coronation William prepared to invade England to claim the throne.


Harold's brother Tostig who had quarrelled with Harold joined the king of Norway Harald Hardrada in invading Northumbria. Harold defeated & killed them at The Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York, on 25 September. Several days later William landed at Pevensey, Sussex, & Harold & his army marched quickly South to face him. The Battle of Hastings took place on 14 October 1066. Harold's army was defeated & he was killed in the battle.


The Witan elected 15 year-old Edgar the Aethling, a grandson of King Edmund II Ironside, as the next Anglo-Saxon King. However he was the uncrowned King for only a few weeks from 15 October to 10 December 1066 when William entered London & declared himself king. The Witan & Edgar were forced to submit to William of Normandy at Berkhamstead Castle in Hertfordshire.


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More about Anglo-Saxon England



Kingdom of Wessex


Wessex (Old English: Westseaxna rīce, the 'Kingdom of the West Saxons') was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan in 927.


The Anglo-Saxons believed that Wessex was founded by Cerdic & Cynric, but this could be a legend. The two main sources for the history of Wessex are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle & the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, which sometimes conflict. Wessex became a Christian kingdom after Cenwalh was baptised & was expanded under his rule. Cædwalla later conquered Sussex, Kent & the Isle of Wight. His successor, Ine, issued one of the oldest surviving English law codes & established a second West Saxon bishopric.


During the 8th century, as the hegemony of Mercia grew, Wessex largely retained its independence. It was during this period that the system of shires was established. Under Egbert, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Essex, & Mercia, along with parts of Dumnonia, were conquered. He also obtained the overlordship of the Northumbrian king. However, Mercian independence was restored in 830. During the reign of his successor, Æthelwulf, a Danish army arrived in the Thames estuary, but was decisively defeated. When Æthelwulf's son, Æthelbald, usurped the throne, the kingdom was divided to avoid war. Æthelwulf was succeeded in turn by his four sons, the youngest being Alfred the Great.


Wessex was invaded by the Danes in 871, & Alfred was compelled to pay them to leave. They returned in 876, but were forced to withdraw. In 878 they forced Alfred to flee to the Somerset Levels, but were eventually defeated at the Battle of Edington. During his reign Alfred issued a new law code, gathered scholars to his court & was able to devote funds to building ships, organising an army & establishing a system of burhs. Alfred's son, Edward, captured the eastern Midlands & East Anglia from the Danes & became ruler of Mercia in 918 upon the death of his sister, Æthelflæd. Edward's son, Æthelstan, conquered Northumbria in 927, & England became a unified kingdom for the first time. Cnut the Great, who conquered England in 1016, created the wealthy & powerful earldom of Wessex, but in 1066 Harold Godwinson reunited the earldom with the crown & Wessex ceased to exist.


Earlier Monarchs of Wessex;


The Kingdom of the Gewissae,


Cerdicing dynasty

519 to 534 - Cerdic - Possibly Celtic, Brythonic, name.

534 to 560 - Cynric - Son, or according to some sources grandson, of Cerdic.

560 to 591 - Ceawlin - Son of Cynric. Possibly Celtic, Brythonic, name.

591 to 597 - Ceol - Nephew of Ceawlin, grandson of Cynric.

597 to 611 - Ceolwulf - Brother of Ceol, grandson of Cynric.

611 to 643 - Cynegils - Sources derive him from Cynric, but name different dynasty members as his father. Possibly Celtic, Brythonic, name.

c. 626 to 636 - Cwichelm - Co-ruler with Cynegils, perhaps his son of this name.

643 to 645 - Cenwalh - Son of Cynegils. Possibly Celtic, Brythonic, name; Deposed.


Mercian dynasty

645 to 648 - Penda - King of Mercia, expelled Cenwalh.


Cerdicing dynasty

648 to 674 - Cenwalh - Restored; reigned jointly with his wife Queen Seaxburh 672 to 674.

672 to 674 - Seaxburh - Reigned jointly with her husband Cenwalh until his death 674.

674 - Cenfus - (Disputed) Perhaps reigned between Seaxburh & his son Æscwine. Given a remote descent from Cynric.

674 to 676 - Æscwine - Son of Cenfus.

676 to 685 - Centwine - Traditionally son of Cynegils, but this is disputed. Deposed by Cædwalla

685 to 688 - Cædwalla - Perhaps descendant of Ceawlin. Usurper; abdicated, possibly of British origin.

688 to 726 - Ine - Descendant of Ceawlin. Abdicated.

726 to 740 - Æthelheard - Perhaps brother-in-law of Ine.

740 to 756 - Cuthred - Relative, possibly brother, of Æthelheard.

756 to 757 - Sigeberht - Distant relative of Cuthred. Deposed (and killed?) by Cynewulf.

757 to 786 - Cynewulf - Assassinated by Cyneheard, brother of Sigeberht.

786 to 802 - Beorhtric - Reigned 786 to 802.

802 to 839 - Ecgberht - Descendant of Ine's brother.

839 to 858 - Æthelwulf - Son of Ecgberht.

858 to 860 - Æthelbald - Son of Æthelwulf.

860 to 865 - Æthelberht - Son of Æthelwulf.

865 to 871 - Æthelred I - Son of Æthelwulf.

871 to 886 - Alfred the Great - Son of Æthelwulf.


For other lists of monarchs visit; Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex.


 

Old English

Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England & southern & eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was probably brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the mid-5th century, & the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, as during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.



Old English developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or Ingvaeonic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons & Jutes. As the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in England, their language replaced the languages of Roman Britain: Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, & Latin, brought to Britain by Roman invasion. Old English had four main dialects, associated with particular Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish & West Saxon. It was West Saxon that formed the basis for the literary standard of the later Old English period, although the dominant forms of Middle & Modern English would develop mainly from Mercian. The speech of eastern & northern parts of England was subject to strong Old Norse influence due to Scandinavian rule & settlement beginning in the 9th century.



Old English is one of the West Germanic languages, & its closest relatives are Old Frisian & Old Saxon. Like other old Germanic languages, it is very different from Modern English & difficult for Modern English speakers to understand without study. Within Old English grammar nouns, adjectives, pronouns & verbs have many inflectional endings & forms, & word order is much freer. The oldest Old English inscriptions were written using a runic system, but from about the 8th century this was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet.


 

Danelaw


The Raven flag of Danelaw